My friend Todd Dubord passed on these insights from the book Celebrating Failure by Ralph Heath. I look back at the past year and see several things I would do differently, in relationship to my church, and other challenging things I faced. But the takeaway from this—whether we are marriage partners, parents, church leaders, parachurch workers, business people, or you name it—is that God keeps giving us opportunities to choose differently based on wisdom gained from our past, including the mistakes. But we need to take time to reflect in order to gain that wisdom.
The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception (Proverbs 14:8).
Wish You Could Do it Over Again?
For most people, it is much easier (and preferred) to think of our dazzling successes than failures. It is much easier to look at our positives than our negatives. But doing so can actually prevent us and our organization from growing stronger and more healthy. Every leader (and human being) often has the experience of having a lively discussion with someone, only to think to themselves a short time later after the moment has passed, “Oh, if only I would have thought to say this or that.” So why not be more intentional about changing those moments rather than to haphazardly hope they don't recur?
It is a challenge for anyone to think under-fire and to come up with a stellar response on the spot, but good leaders do it all the time. How? It’s not typically a result of their sparkling spontaneity, but instead due to their previous training. Now, this could be formal training, like that of a policemen who is trained to react rather than deliberate when faced with a life-threatening situation. But more often than not, it's the less formal but more common self-training available to all of us that simply involves looking back on a situation or a day’s events and thinking about how they might have done something better. The best of leaders learn not only to listen to and lead a team (including their opposition), but self-reflect each and every day about what worked and didn't work in their leadership (team), and building a leadership culture which does the same daily self-analysis.
Award-winning advertising executive and author Ralph Heath recommends leaders carving time in their daily schedules to form the habit of routinely looking back on their responses to any given situation and thinking about how they might have done better. Asking the same from those closest (and most honest) to the leader is a critical part of confirming that self-analysis. As a result of taking his own advice, Heath says, “I can’t believe how much more thoughtful I can be [in the present] when I’m given additional time and no pressure [to self-reflect upon the past].” Self-reflection is absolutely the best teacher for "next time." It's true in relationships. It's true in leadership. As often said, learn especially from failure or you'll be doomed to repeat past mistakes.
Leaders who form and practice this practical discipline soon realize that they do not get just one shot—or even just two shots—to step up and be better. They learn that history often repeats itself. They learn that they are asked the same questions over and over. They learn that they are repeatedly put into similar situations and that they can use that clever and memorable repartee they thought of after the first experience—all because they took the time to think about a better answer or solution, and encouraged others to do the same.